As The Rotation Turns

It's been a challenging year for the Yankee starting rotation.  From injury scares to innings limits to uneven performance to forearm strains to unforeseen promotions to undeserved demotions and everything in between.  Yesterday was another chapter in that saga both on and off the field, as Michael Pineda looked terrible in the 2nd inning of his start against the Orioles before rebounding to complete 6 innings and the team announced that Nathan Eovaldi will be out for the next 2 weeks with what's been called "elbow inflammation".  Guys getting hurt and missing a few weeks?  That's basically par for the course for the Yankees this year. Roll it back to the first month of the season and look what they've gone through.  Masahiro Tanaka made 4 starts in April and then went to the DL for a month with right arm problems.  The "he should have had TJS!!" crowd went into overdrive, but Pineda pitched like an ace and helped get the rest of the rotation through that month, highlighting his time at the top of the rotation with a brilliant 16-K performance against the Orioles in May.

The Yankees took another injury hit in May when Chase Whitley, called up to replace Tanaka in the rotation, hit the DL and the operating table for TJS on his elbow after only 4 starts.  This put the rotation on very shaky ground, as Eovaldi and CC Sabathia were not pitching well and Chris Capuano was not the answer to that open 5th spot.  Then May turned to June and Adam Warren began to emerge as the most consistent member of the rotation, meaning of course that he had to be banished to the bullpen to make room for the returning Ivan Nova.  This caused a fair amount of controversy among the fansbase and blogosphere, but Nova's OK early performance and the return of Tanaka kept it from becoming a major issue.

As we've moved through the proverbial dog days of summer and into the final month of the regular season, we've seen Tanaka battle home run problems, Pineda hit the DL for a month with a forearm strain of his own, and Sabathia continue to struggle with what we now know was more knee pain.  Nova is going through the usual command problems that accompany TJS comebacks, Warren languishes away as a misused and under-used piece of the bullpen, and Eovaldi had blossomed into the best starter in the rotation before hitting the DL with this elbow inflammation.  And to top it all off, the Yanks went ahead and called up 21-year-old top prospect Luis Severino last month.  Because of all the aforementioned issues, there were calls for the team to add a starter at the trade deadline.  They elected not to go that route, instead putting their faith in Severino and the return to form of their other guys.

Now, with 3 weeks and change remaining in the regular season, it would be fair to say that Severino is the best and most consistent pitcher in the current rotation.  Tanaka has been decent, Pineda has shown signs that he's back to being his usual self, Sabathia is coming back tomorrow with a new knee brace, but it's the 21-year-old kid taking the ball every fifth day and putting the team on his back.  Who would have predicted that back in April?

As you might expect, all this turmoil and turnover has left the Yankees mid-pack in most key statistical categories.  They're 18th in MLB in rotation ERA at 4.29 and 13th in FIP at 4.02.  Their 13.2% HR rate is third to last in the AL, and with Eovaldi's injury they are now guaranteed to not have a single pitcher in their rotation make more than 30 starts this season.  It hasn't been pretty by any stretch of the imagination and it seems like there's been a new high for one pitcher, a new low for another, and a new injury creeping up every week, but somehow the Yankees continue to win games and wake up this morning with a chance to retake the AL East lead.

There has been no shortage of stories and drama in the Yankee rotation this season and I fully expect that drama to carry over into the offseason.  With 3 weeks left, they can delay that drama and write one more positive story if they can hold together long enough to get the team back to the postseason.